Latest news from Art from Ashes!

Drawing on Air

megan-DOHSArt from Ashes has hit the ground running this year with the official launch of a new program offering Drawing on Air.
Created as an extension of AfA’s signature Phoenix Rising curriculum, Drawing on Air utilizes visual and tactile art prompts in addition to poetry and spoken word.
This art and poetry hybrid curriculum has been under construction for the past couple of years (and let’s not forget the months of testing, training, and refining that went into the final stages of program development!), so we are ecstatic to finally announce its completion.
Drawing on Air is currently being offered weekly at Denver Online High School. Over the past several weeks (since the eight-week workshop series began on April 14th), youth participants have been exploring new ways to express their creative genius, visualizing and verbalizing their powerful stories through art. In addition to pen and paper, Drawing on Air provides youth with a wide variety of artistic mediums to form their visual metaphors — pastel, watercolor, acrylic paint, crayon, collage, sculpture and clay (just to name a few). The youth at Denver Online High School have created dozens of powerful metaphors during their time in our workshops, and it has been a true honor witnessing their transformation.
Drop by and check it out! You’ll find Drawing on Air workshops at AfA’s FREE drop-in workshops (for youth 24 and younger) every first Wednesday of the month, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
We are so excited to continue to grow and expand our program offerings that facilitate health and hope through creative expression, connection and transformation. Art from Ashes is truly grateful for your support. This is all possible because of YOU! Thank you!!
Courtney Chandler, Program Director

Staff Updates

Ashley_Courtney Photo
Spring is here, and so are new beginnings. We’ve launched Drawing on Air, our youth empowerment through visual art program, are introducing a new Director of Operations, are saying goodbye to a wonderful staff member, and are excited to promote our long-time volunteer, program manager and Drawing on Air facilitator to Director of Programs.
Ashley Cornelius has done so much for our agency. Thanks in part to funding from El Pomar, in her one-year tenure as Director of Programs (formerly program manager as an intern), Ashley increased the number of workshops contracted by 80%, has helped start our two new weekly drop-in youth workshops, has increased our presence in the community, and has proven herself to be an accomplished performance poet. We’re sad to see her leave, but the world stage awaits as she attends DU to get her graduate degree in International Psychology. What an amazing future awaits this young human!
Courtney-yogaCourtney Chandler has taken over from Ashely as Director of Programs, and we couldn’t wish for a more delightful and competent replacement. Courtney began her journey with AfA as a volunteer more than three years ago as a volunteer, then became an intern because of her studies in treating substance addiction through art, and for the past year has been the Phoenix Rising Program Manager. After Courtney took an adult workshop (which she describes as “life changing”) for part of her training as a facilitator, she understood better than ever the potential for healing that our program provides youth. Because she is an accomplished artist, Courtney helped develop Drawing on Air, based on the award-winning Phoenix Rising poetry and spoken word curriculum, but using visual and tactile art. Courtney also is a yoga/fitness instructor and an all-around amazing individual. Check her out at the Denver Chalk Art Festival on June 4th and 5th!

Read Courtney’s bio here.

Welcome to Sophia Cocas, our new Director of Operations! Ask anyone at the agency and they will tell you that Sophia brings a light to the organization, and we are all about basking in that light. Sophia is a mother of three, an artist, and a grad student criminology at Regis. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a Minor in Sociology from Metropolitan State University of Denver, graduating with honors. Sophia brings her passion for youth, sociology, the criminal justice system, and art into our agency in order to help us reach more youth and do it in an organized and well-managed way (Look out world!). Sophia is committed to taking our mission even further, and helping us reach youth throughout Colorado!

Read Sophia’s bio here.

2016 NAHYP National Recognition

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A'te-aunesEach year, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its cultural partners — the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services —  recognizes 50 outstanding programs all over the country for their work in providing excellent arts and humanities learning opportunities to young people. This is the third time AfA has been recognized as having one of the top 50 youth arts programs in the country: the Phoenix Rising youth empowerment program using poetry and spoken word.

The committee sent the following letter to Art from Ashes announcing our award:

Congratulations! Your program’s work has been chosen for recognition as a 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award (NAHYP) Finalist by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its partner agencies, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We are highly impressed with the successful work your organization and the other Finalists have accomplished in youth after-school and out-of-school arts and humanities learning.

Your program’s selection as one of the 50 Finalists distinguishes it as one of the top arts- and humanities-based programs in the country.

Art from Ashes could not experience these great successes without the support of our community, donors and volunteers. Thank you so much!

See the other finalists here.

A Look Back At 2015

Art from Ashes continued to make strides forward in our support of Denver youth in 2015, empowering hundreds more youth to find their voice and power.

Some of the highlights from last year include making nearly 3,000 youth contacts and facilitating 391 workshops, an 80 percent increase from the 352 in 2014!

Meanwhile, our amazing volunteer grant team increased revenue by 61 percent, making a total of 18 percent of organizational revenue. Of the 19 grants submitted, an incredible 42 percent were awarded.

Take a look below at some of our other successes from last year. Without your support, whether through volunteering, funding or other means, we could not have taken these steps. We are looking forward to a year of reaching even more youth, and changing even more lives, in 2016.

Like a Phoenix Rising, we will see a lot of new growth and opportunities for Art from Ashes. We will be releasing new programs and have a great new team of staff and volunteers eager to take on an aggressive but ever exciting list of events and fundraising goals. I, with the board, staff and volunteers are seeking to expand our wings and our influence in the community and across the state. – Board President Ray Rodriguez

Download the pdf here: AfA-2015 Prelim Report


Our New Year Resolutions

IMG_9007The new year brings the spirit of renewal, and at Art from Ashes, we are excited to welcome 2016 by looking towards what we can do to be our best selves. That means making our resolutions about what we want to accomplish in 2016, and also making a conscious decision to leave the less productive parts of ourselves in 2015.

Here are some of the ways our fabulous staff is looking to better serve our youth, our community and, not least of all, themselves in 2016.

Executive Director Catherine O’Neill Thorn:
I resolve to establish AfA in communities outside of the Denver/Boulder area!
I release my own failures; I’m creating all kinds of new ones instead!

Board Vice President Lewis Lease

My goal is to bring in $6000 in corporate sponsorships in 2016.

Director of Programs Ashley Cornelius:
I resolve to increase contract sales, renew standing contracts, and secure a committed bank of facilitators to match increased contract sales.
I will release trying to figure everything out and trust that things will fall into place as they should.

Volunteer Coordinator Nadine Louis 
I resolve to increase volunteer retention through continual contact and expand methods of appreciation.
I will release my mental space from uncertainty and letting my creative, adventure goddess

Program  Manager Courtney Chandler
I resolve to bring amazing new creative ideas for AfA program expansion!
I will release doubt and fear that stand in the way of my strength, confidence, and personal growth.

This year, we are looking forward to continuing to grow, reaching more youth and making even deeper trenches within the community. We hope to be a part of your 2016 as well, whether that is through attending a workshop, making a donation or volunteering your time. Here’s to a great year!

Hear AfA on KGNU’s “Outsources”

kgnuA few weeks ago, Art from Ashes facilitator Franklin Cruz and youth participant Rachel Icolari joined KGNU’s Jeffrey Hoyle on “Outsources,” KGNU’s programming focused on LGBTQ+ news.

In the segement, Franklin and Rachel shared their perspectives on poetry, queer expression, youth expression through poetry and the transforming power on Art From Ashes programming.

“Really what we want our youth to understand is, for one, being able to express themselves because, especially for our queer youth, there’s not really a platform for people to have a meaningful listening conversation with them,” Franklin explained. “We find that if you just give them a few minutes to write down something that’s really integral to their identity or what they’re going through, and just listen, they’ll feel so much more equipped to handle the everyday processes that they have to go through simply because they find support.”

In the half hour segement, they covered a variety of AfA programming, the transformative effect poetry can have in the lives of queer and struggling youth, and their own personal experiences.

Check out the segement for yourself at this link, and hear the powerful words for yourself. A special thanks to KGNU for featuring us and our work. Art from Ashes looks forward to continuing to share more of ourselves and our efforts with the Denver and Colorado community.

Art is a Function of the Brain

by Johnny Fuenzalida

One of the trademarks of being a conscious being is having a brain, an organic command center to execute the functions of all of our voluntary and involuntary actions. The way your eyes just blinked, the amount of bile your liver just secreted into your bloodstream and the firmness with which you press the elevator call-button are traced back to the luminous and tireless neurons racing through your synapses. This also means that the practices of making and observing art are both functions of our brains — from the choice of canvas to the feeling of utter elation after seeing a sold out Salt-N-Pepa show, our brains actually show measurable behaviors that correspond to our experiences.

In 2013, Professor Adam Zeman headed a team of neuroscientists at the University of Exeter studying the differences between bland, technical prose (a heater installation instruction manual was used) and poetry. Using functioning magnetic resource imaging (fMRI), the team discovered that while both prose and poetry activated the “reading centers” of the brain, the emotional impact of the poetry was found in the same part of the brain that lights up when we’re emotionally stirred by music. The study also revealed that poetry strongly affected the posterior cingulated cortex, a region of the brain where introspection takes place. Poetry, therefore, has the ability to produce the same “chilling” effect that a beautiful piece of music does, while giving us a heady dose of self-reflection. When it comes to creating the poetry, however, a different set of rules apply.

Dr. Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, conducted a study in which he scanned the brains of 30 participants while they were shown distressing pictures. The participants, while writing, tended to have decreased emotional activity and a strong increase in the pre-frontal cortex—the executive and cognitive areas of the brain. This means that writing about a scenario that normally produces anxiety can actually have a cathartic, therapeutic effect. However, the more vivid and descriptive the writing became, the subjects appeared less relaxed, essentially “reliving” a traumatic experience. Why? Let’s ask science!

In the 1990s, many scientists began to focus their research on how the brain responds to language. Going back to the trusty fMRI machines, they scanned the brains of individuals hearing and reading very descriptive writing. Researches had determined that the processing of language wasn’t contained in a single “module,” of the brain, as scientists had previously believed. Benjamin Bergen, researcher at the University of California, says that language is actually “a whole-brain type of process.”

Hypothetically, if I say that, sitting inside and writing this article while it’s such a beautiful day outside is as comfortable as wearing wet socks, your brain immediately recalls the sensory experience of wet socks, and also conjures up an image of me working at a computer. You could also probably determine my stress level based on the comparison of the image and the feelings. “The way that you understand an action is by recreating in your vision system what it would look like to perceive that event and recreating in your motor system what it would be like,” Bergen says.

This is the reason vivid and descriptive writing of traumatic experiences can increase levels of anxiety. This is also why it’s easy to cringe when reading an account of physical pain (especially one that we have personally experienced).

While the true nature of artistic expression is still an ever elusive concept, these experiments have shown that art is biologically devoted to mankind’s mental processing of the world. Throughout our day-to-day routine activities, we are unconsciously using the same mechanisms that engineer the most imaginative, empathic masterpieces that we know of.

Colorado Creative Industries Awards AfA $7,500

Colorado Creative Industries Awards AfA $7,500 to help fund the growth and introduction of new programs that foster self-realization and empowerment.

AfA Hosts A Successful, Whimsical Mad Hatter Tea Party

11938253_10207716166960844_1955768197_nOn August 27th, AfA had a WONDERful time at our first annual Mad Hatter Tea Party! More than 20 guests fell down the rabbit hole with us to enjoy live music, youth poetry, whimsical decor, and a fanciest hat contest. Participants also got to savor delectable treats and delicious tea from our friends over at Drip Denver. Hats off to all who came out to our event!

Members of Steampunk not only loaned us most of the tea service, but donated some tea, as well!

AfA’s youth intern Hibaq Osman performed two poems: one of which is called “Paper Moon.”

Paper Moon
by Hibaq Osman, 17
Under the paper moon
She thinks she has the basics
But then a demon grabs her dreams
And makes a break for it
It’s a simple equation
Dreams and creation
I’m in love with the person I haven’t me
And that one place I’ve never lived
Please tell me how you can lead a life of 17 years and never live
Chained to a chain link fence
Woven by the hearts which you’ve torn from their place
It’s not a ‘whatever you think it is,’ darling It’s an arms race
And I swear, I scream at the top of my lungs
I swear
I will make a change to this world
I will change the voice of freedom
Bestow power amongst the girls
And I’ll make it to where color doesn’t matter
And race is just a four letter word
Where being queer is not weird
Where homophobia is absurd
Where society links arms with the misfit toys
And welcomes them to their island
Where the raped girl doesn’t cry when she sees her young boy
Because she wished his father’s actions didn’t define him
I swear
These faulty pieces do not define us
I swear the skies are so clear on the other side
I swear the sun will wake you up from this nightmare
And say “It’s okay honey, you don’t have to hide.
You’re absolutely fine right by my side”

Delicious Hearts and Spades sandwich cookies, courtesy of volunteer Lisa Schott Cheney-Philp